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Opening a policy window for organisational change: the creation of BC Hydro's Water Use Planning program Scodanibbio, Lucia

Abstract

In the last few decades decision-making processes dedicated to allocating water among different uses have accorded increasing importance to the environmental and social values of water. In British Columbia, the Water Use Planning (WUP) program is a multi-stakeholder process aimed at revising the operating plans of BC Hydro’s hydroelectric facilities in order to consider water values beyond electricity generation. The purpose of this thesis is to analyse the particular circumstances that led to the emergence of WUP and prompted BC Hydro to open up its decision-making processes to better respond to environmental and social concerns. In particular, the internal and external factors leading to the creation of the program are explored, as well as the factors that facilitated its institutionalisation. The policy change literature provides a framework to analyse these factors, and interviews with key stakeholders and an analysis of secondary data are used to address the research question. A number of external factors highlighted the need for a changed approach to operating BC Hydro’s facilities, such as the ecological impacts caused by the dams’ operations, an imprecise regulatory environment, and worsening relationships with federal and provincial regulators, exemplified by a number of court cases. Factors internal to BC Hydro, including the development of a business case and concerns regarding the utility’s reputation and public expectations, were also critical. While a number of approaches were explored for solving the problems faced by BC Hydro, a policy window for change was opened within a shifting context provided by the election of a more progressive government, the growth of the environmental movement, and new approaches to taking complex multi-stakeholder, multiple resource decisions. A successful pilot process was undertaken on the Alouette River, and within a few months of its completion, BC Hydro was directed by government to expand the process to all its facilities. Factors that enabled the institutionalisation of WUP included the availability of financial resources to compensate for the foregone power, the presence of a number of visionary individuals, the background preparation that facilitated a successful pilot WUP, and the remaining sense of urgency and need of a solution.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

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